April 11, 2014

Mimicking our heroes

Batting stance, bowling run-up, shuffling, adjusting equipment - there's something about cricketers' idiosyncrasies that makes us want to copy them

King Viv: emulate at your own risk © PA Photos

This week I found myself laughing at a YouTube video in which a hyped-up club player charges out to bat, face-plants and then gets bowled for a golden duck. I watched it more than a couple of times, if I'm honest, and it got me wondering about the ways in which I myself had been influenced over the years by the rituals and idiosyncratic routines of international players.

It starts from a young age. Even on an overcast day in the backyard, one of my brothers would often plaster his face with zinc in a pattern influenced by Australian fast bowler Craig McDermott. We'd bat around the wrong way and try to mimic Allan Border's distinct bobbing at the crease, or run in to bowl from an angle in the style of Merv Hughes. Aping the bowling actions of Peter Taylor, Greg Matthews and Waqar Younis, sometimes in the space of a couple of deliveries, eventually came to us subconsciously.

It wasn't just us, either. We've all been there. In a club game in the late '90s I remember hearing howls of laughter from the field as I walked back to my bowling marker because an opposition player had attempted to mark his guard in the style of Shivnarine Chanderpaul: removing one bail and hammering it into the turf in the distinctive style of the West Indies batsman. I wasn't above bowling with a small white towel hanging from my pants to shine the ball, so I was hardly in a position to judge.

These tics and habits have always been a source of fascination. The way David Boon scratched around the crease and "gardened" the pitch while purposefully readjusting his protector was as much part of the legend of Boon as the moustache and that oft-discussed flight to Heathrow. When the player in that YouTube clip fell over, he looked ridiculous obviously, but that same type of ritual is enacted on an almost daily basis wherever there is cricket played. David Warner does it, Justin Langer did it; someone down at your club probably does. In ten years' time it might be skipping, or running backwards, that's de rigueur.

My favourite of these rituals - and it wasn't really even a ritual so much as body language and an inherent ability to project dominance - was the way Viv Richards strolled to the crease. Viv didn't need to windmill his arms or play phantom strokes on the run. (And just how helpful was that routine to a player like Ricky Ponting, often pinned lbw early on as he lunged forward too extravagantly?) "Swagger" is an understatement for Viv's entry to the crease.

Others are more subtle and often not engaged in it for the sake of intimidation. The stutter-step at the top of Ben Hilfenhaus' run-up is one that many would-be fast bowlers could identify with. Maybe there was no reason why they started doing it, but once they did it felt unnatural to stop, or they'd think twice about it and it would disrupt their rhythm. So it sticks and enters the realm of automation, or maybe even superstition.

For Jonathan Trott and Derek Randall, both famous for their fidgeting and endless adjustments of pads and equipment while preparing to take guard, the ritualistic fussing was clearly beyond control. It was as much a part of their batting as footwork and watching the ball from the bowler's hand. A rare piece of engaging commentary during the recent World T20 focused on the reluctance of many modern players to wear "inners" inside their batting gloves and lose their "feel" on the bat handle. As a result, many undo or take their gloves off completely while they are off strike in order to air them out. These habits and customs evolve as interestingly as any aspect of the game.

Recently while looking for a cricket helmet in the shed I happened upon my very first thigh pad, a small and yellowing Gray-Nicolls one. It must have been from the early '90s, because, having seen a photo of Mark Waugh using a Biro to inscribe a new addition to the rows of scores he'd written on his own, I'd taken up the habit myself. It made me think of a time and also the places in which I'd made those (far less impressive) scores. It was a pointless exercise and slightly embarrassing, but the memory of it made me smile.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sports in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian and the Wasted Afternoons. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sam on April 13, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    I used to imagine myself-holding a bat-as left hand Mark Waugh imitating his stance,pick up,pose playing with cousins near the house.Another matter the only person who got an impression of MW is myself ! Even though I could'nt see myself in the 'pose'!-:)

  • kieran on April 12, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    Pretty sure I'm a right-handed Gower; imitation being the highest form of flattery and all that.

  • Sivaram on April 12, 2014, 13:21 GMT

    Interesting article. May have been similar instances in Bollywood too but I remember half of our school aping Rajinikanth playing cricket in Dharmayudham using a very photogenic bat!! Sorry, no intended offense meant to the legends or the writer but couldn't hold back to mention this.

  • Richard on April 12, 2014, 0:44 GMT

    Sure, we all do it. I picked up the habit of bat twirling from watching some batsman in my youth. It may have been Gordon Greenidge but it's so long ago I've forgotten the original source.

  • Dimuthu on April 11, 2014, 17:04 GMT

    Great topic. I always 'channel' a certain bowler when I run in. Knowing very well I haven't nailed all nuances, it seems to help my rhythm. Here's one for you: Sri Lanka's new opening batsman Kusal Perera wanted to idolise his hero Sanath Jayasuriya so much so that he started batting left handed! His square cuts and flick over midwicket look like carbon copies. I remember Sehwag starting out his career as a Sachin clone, and Shoaib Malik having an identical action to Saqlain Mushtaq. Looks like South Asian players can be very successful with their imitations.

  • Ashok on April 11, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    Amongst the natural acts of the Cricketers I rate some memorable ones: Sobers lilting musical walk almost like Calypso in action + his signature stiff Collar. Many Cricketer of that era tried to imitate him- most notable amongst them was Rusi Surthi of India, called Sobers of India! M.L.Jaisimha copied Sobers' stiff Collar. Dexter's majestic walk gave him "Lord Ted" nickname! Lillee's long run up & his great acceleration & all his effort he put into every ball was a pleasure to watch. This was only matched by Wes Hall of WI & Proctor of SA. Subash Gupte & Vinoo Mankad's short run up of 3 paces yet their magical spin bowling! Imran Khan's effort, pace & guile was magical. Polly Umrigar's & Vijay Manjrekar's magical twirl of the bat. John Snow's wild & aggressive bowling at Gavaskar which severed his neck chain into fragments! Pataudi's one eyed stance & his graceful wristy shots. Brutal power of Lloyd only matched by Gayle. Fiery Trueman & smooth statham acting in pair + Many more!.

  • Vivek on April 11, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I remember how Grant Flower used to 'grin' while batting (every time he plonked the bat while the bowler was on his way); also, Brad Hogg used to stick his tongue out while bowling, fielding, and every other time; me and my kid brother used to observe these very dearly and tried to imitate them as well...

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    when i was a kid i took to batting left-handed in honour of my hero graeme pollock. only trouble was i retained my right-handed stance. not a great success

  • zomma on April 11, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    Wasim Raja; what class, what seduction....if ever a sportsman with an aura, sir, if ever a sportsman with an aura....may be not emulated, but idolized by all who saw him...gone are such crowd pullers